Most helpful positive review
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Extraordinarily fine piece of work
on November 12, 2013
This is a very engrossing narrative that is informative, sobering, and chilling. The book reflects the author's own reporting over many years on the aggressive Murdoch news/entertainment empire as well as research done specifically for the book. It has an extensive bibliography and has meticulously annotated page notes documenting sources that occupy about a fourth of the entire book. There is also a detailed index that works with the Kindle.
This reader was aware of some of the excesses of the news media of Murdoch's empire, both in the US and the UK. However he did appreciate the depth of the depravity that is documented in detail by this book for activities in the UK that ultimately resulted in the closing of News of the World in England, after 168 years of publishing.
* Widespread hacking of telephone voicemail boxes (thousands) to gain tidbits for publishing. The targets ranged from royalty like Prince Charles, close relatives of former prime ministers, MPs, celebrities like Hugh Grant, to more ordinary people: people who had been killed in the 2005 bus and subway bombings, British soldiers killed in Afghanistan or Iraq, and during the police hunt the phone 13 year old girl who had been murdered.
* Scotland Yard kept and ignored extensive documentation of hacking activity.
* Bribing the police to gain confidential information on people's whereabouts or phone numbers to hack.
* Blackmailing a person into giving interviews.
* Following MP members of investigative committees by private investigators who were looking for dirt.
* Tit-for-tat or undue influence with politicians at the highest levels of the UK government.
Unsavory activities in the US had some surprises, but they are not on the scale of what happened in the UK.
* Setting up a journalist they did not like with a false "tip".
* Planting numerous phony "reviews" or comments by their own employees against people or organizations they did not like.
* Claims that Obama had studied at a Wahhabist madrassa and that was not bone in the US.
* Large political contributions in 2010 elections blur line between balanced news coverage and political advocacy.
* Pressuring Romney to choose Ryan as his running mate in 2012.
* Pressuring Christie to support Romney.
There is an interesting and generally favorable discussion of the Wall Street Journal's delicate situation and its actions of preserving its reputation for independence after being taken over by Murdoch.
There is no formal epilogue, but much of the last chapter serves that role:
One of the ironies is a description of some consequences of journalism run amok, but which do not come immediately to mind while reading the book as a whole: A bedrock of both British and US American culture is a free press. That freedom allowed Murdoch's empire grow and flourish. However, once the astounding excesses of that empire become known, pressures can arise to deal with the abuse with the heavy hand of law, compromising that bedrock for everyone. This realization reinforces the need to understand that a free press must also be responsible to considerations above monetary gains or advantages of influence.
This message is coupled with the admonition that we as a people share in the responsibility for the abuses:
"Murdoch similarly could not have accumulated his fortunes without our help. We are all, as consumers of media, involved and even responsible for the creation of Murdoch's World ---those of us who pick up his tabloids at the newsstand, enjoy the cable news wars, subscribe to his prestigious papers, watch a ballgame on TV, buy tickets to a movie, even those of us who are News Corp investors through pension funds or mutual funds. We make up the market that he sought to create and feed. He played us, as much as he played everyone else. And we have rewarded him handsomely for it."
This statement appearing near the end of the book reflects on Murdoch's attitude expressed early in the book. In a curious twist of word meanings, Murdoch said that what he did was in the public interest, because people are interested in reading it.
There is an interesting change of mood in the denouement. Up to this point, there has been an edge on the narrative, which was a necessary consequence of the nature of the tawdry events that were described. Here, however, there is a gentleness that visits the pages, exhibiting some empathy for many of the characters, including Rupert Murdoch himself. This whole story is not unlike a Greek tragedy in which the fatal flaws of the principals eventually take their toll.
This book is an extraordinarily fine piece of work.
On a technical note, the extensive page notes of the book are difficult to use in the Kindle format, because of the necessity to jump back and forth. In fact, one does not even know when to jump while reading the main text, because the page notes are organized around page numbers that are irrelevant in the Kindle format. This is a situation for which the hard copy is much better suited. However, in the Kindle format, having once read the book, one can just start reading the page notes and use the links to the appropriate text, and use the Back button to return to the page notes. Alternatively, one can do this on a chapter by chapter basis while reading.
There are so many different characters and branches of the Murdoch empire that it is a little difficult to keep track of them all during the reading. A table of the people, the business, and their connections would have been useful. A serious reader might be like to assemble such a table as the reading proceeds.